Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review: Real Zombies, the Living Dead, and Creatures of the Apocalypse

Brad Steiger, 2010, Penguin Australia

'Real Zombies... is an antidote to the dozens of Hollywood films that monotonously portray the lurching, reanimated dead. True zombie traditions are vast and multicultural, and they have been almost completely overlooked by the popular media...'

Non-fiction paranormal and occult reference books can be a something of a dodgy proposition; the very best ones out there balance entertainment value with at least a modicum of well-referenced and accurately-reported information; the worst are given over completely to sensationalism, with nothing in the way of 'hard evidence' - at least as far as it's possible to provide hard evidence on matters paranormal - to engage the interest of vaguely-skeptical readers.

Real Zombies falls somewhere in the middle, with Steiger speculating heavily on such matters as Hitler's attempt to create a zombie army, and occasionally stating as fact such things as the popularity of 'zombie brides' in the American South following the Civil War. It's certainly entertaining stuff, but, when offered without any backing historical and/or reputable evidence*, it occasionally feels as though Steiger is asking us to take a little too much on faith alone**. That aside, there's a great deal of fascinating information to be found here, with chapters on such things as zombies as heralds of the Apocalypse, eating flesh as a religious experience, governmental experiments to create zombies, and of course much exploration of vodou culture. On balance, there's also a fair bit of material that seems to have little to do with the central topic; reports on 'real-life' sightings of swamp monsters and lycanthropes, tales of urban demon-worship, and information on flesh-eating mythological creatures from around the globe. Ultimately, though, Real Zombies is an entertaining and informative read; whether you take is as fact, fiction, or a mixture of the two, however, will be largely up to you.

* Possibly I'm expecting too much here, the nature of the topic again not necessarily allowing for academic referencing and the like. On the other hand, though, stating as fact something that - to the best of my knowledge - is not generally accepted as fact requires at least some backing evidence, such as, say, the tentative opinion of some little-known historian. Even a simple disclaimer along the lines of 'So-and-so believes that...' - which immediately identifies the information as honest speculation - is generally sufficient.

** As a practicing vodouissant myself, I certainly have no issues with taking things on faith, so don't imagine for a moment that I'm rubbishing anything related to belief in the occult (or religion, etc). However, again, if an author is going to present such matters as non-fiction, rather than as either fiction or an obvious trapping of Faith (such as a religious text), it falls to the author to provide more than just their personal statement of fact.

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